Los Angeles Jewish Home's Blog

Urban Zen: Caring For Others By Caring For Yourself

Urban Zen: Caring For Others By Caring For Yourself
For the Jewish Home, helping to maintain employee health and wellness is a priority. This encompasses wellness of the body, mind, and spirit. Urban Zen, a program recently added to the many healthy activities offered by the Home for employees, is quickly gaining popularity.

Urban Zen was created by visionary designer Donna Karan. As her husband, Stephen, battled lung cancer, he was very aware that his caregivers — doctors, nurses, other medical staff, and family members — seemed to be even more stressed than he was. He asked Donna to do something for caregivers. "The hope was that, by helping caregivers, it would create a ripple effect that would benefit patients as well," explains Susan Jefferson, a certified Urban Zen therapist at YogaWorks and facilitator of sessions at the Jewish Home. "Seeing your caregiver crumble can create a great deal of stress in someone who is ill."

Stephen's request led to the conceptualization of Urban Zen, a holistic healthcare practice created to give people another option for treating pain, anxiety, nausea, insomnia, constipation, and exhaustion. This practice combines five techniques — yoga, Reiki, essential oils, nutrition and contemplative care, such as meditation — and is often used as a supplement to conventional care. Urban Zen uses movement, reflection, visualization, and sensory stimulation as tools to help participants achieve a state of Zen, or calmness.

Urban Zen incorporates some of the basics of yoga, in particular focus on breath and use of restorative movements. "As we begin each session, we evaluate three main components: the levels of pain, anxiety, and insomnia the employees may be dealing with at that time," says Susan. Based on need, essential oils are recommended to help alleviate those problems, followed by some gentle movements and a body scan, which helps you to become more mindful of your body and how it feels. 

The benefits of Urban Zen can be experienced at any age. "Everyone's body, whether young or old, recuperates and restores better when there is balance between the body, mind, and spirit," Susan explains. "Healthcare workers put the concerns of others first, often without taking time to focus on their own needs." Urban Zen can provide the time, space, and tools to slow down and look inside.

Sharon Ginchansky, vice president of human resources, explains why it was important to bring Urban Zen to the Home's employees: "We want to help our employees be healthy and happy. A big part of promoting employee wellness is lessening their stress levels, and Urban Zen is an excellent way to do this." She adds, "Taking a few minutes out of our day to focus on our own well-being can help us recommit to the work at hand and bring a sense of inner peace. Urban Zen is a great de-stressing practice because it can be as simple as inhaling fragrant oil or focusing on breathing."

Through ongoing research surveys, people who participate in Urban Zen classes report greater relaxation, a renewed sense of peace and calm, reduction of aches and pains, clearer thinking, and better sleep and digestion. "The best part is you can take what you learn in a session and use the techniques on your own to help prevent symptoms from recurring," says Susan.

"Urban Zen provides a wonderful break from my work stressors," says Debbie Fishel, a regular member of the Grancell Village employee group. "The relaxation techniques I've learned help get me through the rest of the week." Dr. Rick Smith notes that sometimes it's difficult to make time to attend, "but I'm always glad I did."